Sales of flavoured waters such as Ugly are on the rise (Photo: Ugly Drinks)
Water is the cool kid on the block these days. As well as the straight-up version from our own taps, we can now buy it carbonated in cans, flavoured with fruit or pimped up with protein. There’s clearly quite a market for it. Figures from the consumer insights company Kantar Worldpanel showed that last year, British supermarket shoppers bought 33.5 million more litres of flavoured water than the previous year, a rate of growth that outpaces that of plain water. The growth is thought to reflect an increased awareness of health issues, especially concerns about sugar consumption, pushing people towards reduced-sugar or no-sugar flavoured waters as a healthier option to fizzy drinks and fruit juice. “What’s interesting is that clearly Brits are drinking more water, but it’s not happening in isolation. It’s happening at the same time that Brits are drinking less fizzy drinks, whether sugary or sweetened,” says Joe Benn, co-founder of Ugly Drinks, which makes 100 per cent natural, flavoured sparkling water. This is not about “upgrading” water, he says, but taking on traditional fizzy drinks with a tasty, cool alternative. This is water with more of a conscience. Guilt-free satisfaction of that ‘cold can moment’ Dash Water, another producer riding the wave of popularity for water with a twist, even uses “wonky veg” rejected by supermarkets to flavour its drinks. Founded in 2017, it now sells 250,000 cans a month through stockists including Boots and Ocado and expects to triple its turnover in 2019. Its founder, Jack Scott, says the UK has followed the US in a growing demand for sugar and sweetener-free sparkling drinks. But despite wanting to move away from the negative elements of fizzy drinks, people still crave some of the things that made them popular in the first place. Take the can, which is aluminium and recyclable but still provides what he calls the “cold can moment”. “You still get that excitement of opening a can and having something carbonated which is great tasting but you don’t have any sugar, sweetener or calories,” he says.
(Photo: Dash Water)
There’s more to the new-look waters than flavours. Rafael Rozenson came up with Vieve Protein Water while he was working at Evian and wanted an alternative to protein powders and shakes to provide hydration after exercise. “One day I just happened to look at a bottle of water and had a bit of a ‘eureka’ moment. So I went about a journey of crafting a really great tasting, hydrating protein drink that was water-based and unlike anything else on the market,” he says. Rozenson believes there’s a growing trend not just for flavoured waters but “functional” waters as well. “People are turning off from sugary sodas, but want something more exciting than just plain old tap water. They also want something that helps fulfil a functional purpose in their lives. For example, 47 per cent of consumers are increasing their protein intake to maintain a healthy weight, so a product like ours helps consumers meet that goal in an easy, convenient manner.”
Bio-Synergy’s Skinny Water, which launched in 2006, similarly aimed to fill a gap its founders saw in the market. “Originally back when we launched Skinny Water, other functional waters on the market were highly calorific and didn’t have a demonstrable functionality,” says Daniel Herman, Bio-Synergy’s founder. “Consuming one vitamin drink a week isn’t going to have noticeable benefits to your health. We wanted to create a drink that was zero sugar, zero calories and moreish enough to incorporate into a daily routine.” They were ahead of the curve, says Herman, and have been “waiting for people to realise functional, low calorie waters are something they need in life. Skinny Water appeals to people that want to have a water-based product with functionality but find water boring. The idea is to make water more exciting and enjoyable while adding extra functionality to our drinks.” He says the I-carnitine and chromium in Skinny Water can help to curb sugar cravings and improve the body’s ability to burn fat.
Adapting to different kinds of fizzy drinks
For Ugly, the difference is not just in the product itself but the branding around it, which targets “a younger Generation Z, millennial consumer”. The company has also thought carefully about price – at 90p, a can costs little more than a standard fizzy drink. “We very purposefully built the brand with that in mind,” says Benn. For Skinny Water’s founder, it’s about offering something fun as well as functional, hence their launch of a “mocktail” range including Skinny Bellini, Skinny Mojito and Gym Tonic. “In my opinion, as people get more health conscious, they will turn to functional waters more often and will therefore be keen to experiment with new flavours,” says Herman. Despite the surge in popularity of more natural drinks, consumers may need a while to get used to them, admits Dash’s Scott. “Our products don’t have that sweet hit that you would get from another product,” he says. “But we do believe it’s got a strong enough flavour for it to be a good replacement.” By using real fruit and vegetables, Dash is also inevitably more expensive than your average can of fizzy drink, but Scott says they see their drinks as an “everyday premium” – the Green & Blacks of the water world – and believes there is space for them in the market.
(Photo: Ugly Drinks)
It remains to be seen whether this is a trend destined for the plughole once consumers move on to the next health fad.
“For me, there’s no reason why it won’t be a huge part of soft drinks going forward if the taste is right,” says Scott. “It’s not necessarily about making water more exciting – it’s about giving a great alternative to traditional soft drinks.” Herman agrees: “The demand for functional waters is only going to increase; people are already demanding more from their drinks and I believe they will continue to do so. Now it’s up to us to stay ahead of the trend and make sure we’re meeting consumer demand.” For Rozenson that includes the promise of waters that can do everything from help us sleep to improve brain function. “We’ve seen a lot of new brands come along, in very colourful, Instagram-friendly packaging that has added a whole new sense of excitement to the ‘pimped-up’ water category.” “In the US we are seeing a proliferation of all kinds of functional waters from functional nootropic beverages – ones to improve brain function – to waters that help you sleep, to even waters that help with various stages of the menstrual cycle. Expect to see some of these in the UK soon, so yes this trend will continue!”